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What Happens at a Preliminary Hearing for Domestic Violence?

Published in Criminal Law on August 31, 2022.

You were arrested, and now you are wondering, What happens at a preliminary hearing for domestic violence? If this is your first run-in with the law, you are probably unsure what to expect at a preliminary hearing for domestic violence. 

Contrary to the implications of popular TV shows, an individual accused of a crime is not arrested and tried the next day—or even the next week. Instead, there are multiple pretrial hearings where the defendant and the prosecutor appear before the court. 

If this is the first time you are accused of domestic violence, you are probably unfamiliar with what occurs after your arrest. Several things will happen shortly after your arrest. The first will be your arraignment.

At Eskew Law, LLC, our attorneys have a decade of experience representing individuals accused of domestic violence crimes. We know how to help protect your rights from the moment of arrest, arraignment, preliminary hearing, and through trial. 

It is essential to obtain counsel as soon as possible. A skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney will assess the prosecutor’s case for strengths and weaknesses. This is a crucial step. At this juncture, your attorney may decide to request a preliminary hearing.  

What to Expect at a Preliminary Hearing for Domestic Violence

A preliminary hearing is often referred to as a “trial before the trial” or a “mini-trial.” As the name suggests, it takes place before the criminal trial. Many people confuse a preliminary hearing with an arraignment, but they are not the same. In an arraignment, the judge informs you of the charges against you, addresses bail, appoints counsel if you can’t afford your own, and gives you a chance to enter a plea. Typically, since the case has barely begun, defendants enter not guilty pleas at arraignment to give their lawyers a chance to look at the evidence against them.

A preliminary hearing is quite different. The purpose of a preliminary hearing is for the judge to decide if the prosecutor has enough evidence or probable cause to proceed with the case. Let’s look at that a little more closely.

Purpose of a Preliminary Hearing

This is an evidentiary hearing that is similar to a trial. In fact, it’s often called a mini-trial. But the purpose of the preliminary hearing for domestic violence is not to determine a defendant’s guilt or innocence. At this hearing, the prosecutor must show the court that they have enough evidence against you to go forward with the charges or the case could be dismissed.

The prosecutor is not required to present all of their evidence or their entire theory of the case—they must only show that probable cause exists. They can do this by calling witnesses to testify and introducing physical evidence. It is common for the arresting officer to testify to establish probable cause.

The rules of evidence are typically relaxed at a preliminary hearing. In other words, evidence that is inadmissible at the trial can be introduced at this stage. One of the most common examples is hearsay. Although a prosecutor cannot use hearsay evidence to prove guilt at trial, they can introduce it at the preliminary hearing to establish probable cause. 

At the preliminary hearing, the defense counsel gets an opportunity to challenge the prosecutor’s evidence. It is an excellent opportunity for the defense attorney to gain insight into the prosecutor’s strategy, evidence, and general theory of the case. Essentially, it is a preview of the State’s case and can be beneficial in planning your defense. 

Plea Bargaining

Generally, a criminal case can be resolved through a plea bargain at any time before a jury verdict is rendered at trial. Prosecutors sometimes offer the most favorable deal before the preliminary hearing. This is because the prosecutor has not had much time to prepare the case at this early stage and might want to dispose of it before having to go through an evidentiary hearing. 

There are pros and cons to entertaining a plea bargain before the preliminary hearing. If you don’t accept a sweet offer beforehand and the hearing goes well for the prosecutor, they may not be inclined to offer such a favorable plea option later. 

On the other hand, if the hearing does not go well for the prosecutor, the defense attorney will be in a better position to negotiate a more favorable plea bargain or even get the case dismissed. Knowing when to entertain a plea bargain comes with experience. This is why it is crucial to have a seasoned defense attorney on your side. 

Waiving Your Preliminary Hearing

A defendant may waive their right to a preliminary hearing for domestic violence. There are several reasons a defendant would waive this hearing.

  • They might want to stall in the hopes witnesses become unavailable, do not remember, or grow more confused about what transpired by the time the trial rolls around. 
  • They might want to avoid igniting heated witnesses by forcing them to come into court and testify so soon after the incident.
  • They might fear additional charges if the evidence presented at the hearing implicates them further. 
  • They might intend to plead guilty and not want the judge to hear witnesses recount details of a crime before sentencing.
  • They might want to avoid publicity, especially if they intend to plead guilty. 

An experienced attorney can assess whether it is appropriate to waive your preliminary hearing.

Preliminary Hearing Attorneys for Domestic Violence

If you have been arrested, you may be wondering, What happens at a preliminary hearing for domestic violence? If so, call the defense attorneys at Eskew Law, LLC. We know how scary it is to be arrested and charged with a crime, and we will happily answer any questions you might have in the aftermath of such a trauma. Our attorneys believe the best strategy for defending our clients is to get to know our clients. We want to hear your story and devise a course of action to achieve the most favorable outcome possible on your behalf. Domestic violence charges are serious. Let us put our decade of experience to work for you. Contact us today

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